El Guincho – Pop Negro

Release Date 13/09/2010 (Young Turks)

By Chris Gilliver

Pop NegroEl Guincho’s fascination with engineering and production techniques is paramount he explains in the lengthy interview attached to the press release:

“I did some research on radio hits /big selling singles in North America, South America, England and Spain in the late 70s, 80s and early 90s. I found out that a massive percentage of these hits were engineered by just around 40/50 different guys…Actually what really inspired me to do this records was reading books/interviews with engineers and producers rather than proper records.”

It’s an intriguing confession. The sounds that Pop Negro make are fascinating and of a relentlessly high quality. Instrumental opener ‘Bombay’ is a statement of intent coming in briefly like a Silent Hill game before breaking off into intricate and infectious percussion backed with Caribbean instrumentation. Then ‘Novias’ comes in sampling Trevor Horn’s ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, and it all becomes underwhelming. It’s important to note that El Guincho sings entirely in Spanish so any lyrical dexterity is lost on my monolingual self.

This whole album could have been written by Prince and produced by Trevor Horn for a highbrow 80s audience – I mean this as a compliment. But there’s a hollowness at the album’s core. Through El Guincho’s obsessive mastery of engineering and production he seems to have forgotten that at the core of every great album is a collection of songs that would sound excellent whether played simply by one person with an acoustic guitar, or many in an orchestra of kazoos. Such a fundamental concept is sadly absent from Pop Negro.

That’s not to say that Pop Negro lacks real quality. There are moments of true class here. ‘Soca Del Eclipse’ impresses with its samba beat and Hall and Oates pop sensibilities, and ‘FM Tan Sexy’, despite its preposterous title, could fit snugly into the Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion – though it makes me wonder whether El Guincho’s sexified lyrics are better left untranslated. Take M.I.A. for instance. Her records sound excellent, but my opinion of her would be far higher if her vacuous opinions were uttered in a language I could not understand.

So all this leaves us with an album that’s easy on the ear, but that fails to evoke any emotion in a substantial way. And it’s a lack of real substance that causes Pop Negro’s downfall.

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